Monday, July 16, 2012

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The fifth and final part of The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs

Ah, the home straight. If you've followed us all the way through parts one, two, three and four, I salute you. And now...spiky things.

I received a whinge last week as I'd missed out the Scutellosaurus. Well, I had a plan for him all along, doubters! (As for Heterodontosaurus, well...there's bound to be a point in the near future when I become desperate for material.) Scutellosaurus was an early member of the Thyreophora, the clade containing the stegosaurs and ankylosaurs, and its rendition here is rather lizardlike, the dragging tail in particular.

What to say about Stegosaurus? Sauropods aside, it's the classic huge, lumbering, tiny-brained and unlikely-looking dinosaur. This unusual perspective is very effective in highlighting the animal's miniscule head, massive bulk and ridiculous pointy adornment. It deviates from truly old-fashioned restorations in that its head is well clear of the ground and its tail, although drooping, isn't necessarily being dragged. This notably differs from...

...the skeletal which, as with so many others in the book, is anachronistically old-fashioned even for the 1980s. In fact, it looks to be based on Marsh's from the 1890s, which was seemingly the basis for every restoration of the animal for decades. Still, beautifully drawn as always, and you've got to appreciate the multiple angles and close-ups of the skull, teeth and even vertebrae (very unusual for a popular book).

This Scelidosaurus is a very active-looking creature, a world away from earlier restorations that gave it sprawling limbs and a dragged tail. Its alertness is particularly emphasised by the upright position of its head and neck. It's a lovely illustration, and it seems odd that this is one of the less reproduced/copied out of those in this book.

Polacanthus; I've been riding on one, and this illustration became the definitive 'look' of this dinosaur for many people, especially as it was copied so much. In fact, I've known nostalgic twenty-somethings to get all upset when they find out that modern restorations of this animal are rather different (I'm not sure why - they're also spikier and far, far cooler). Its something of an evolution from Neave Parker's lizardy version (and the hideous Blackgang model obviously based on same), retaining the dragging tail while being rather more muscular and less...fat. Oh, and Nodosaurus and Hylaeosaurus too.

Another highly influential illustration, and undoubtedly one of the best of all. Rarely has an ankylosaur looked so dynamic, so exciting, so...furious! The viewer is really drawn into the animal's tiny, yellow eye as well, which is quite remarkable given how distracting all those spiky bits are.

This is also one of my favourite skeletal spreads in the book, especially for the overhead view of a Euoplocephalus skeleton. Artists have far too often mistakenly interpreted ankylosaurs as being sort of tubular - even Sibbick does in this book in some places - but that is to seriously underestimate how bizarre they were. Their hips were wide...absurdly wide. Of course, that also made them very sturdy, which is useful when you're not going to be running from that ravenous tyrannosaur in a hurry. Also illustrated are the muscles that an ankylosaur would probably have used to swing its tail at predators, an absolute favourite subject for palaeoartists and one that has produced a number of gems over the years...

...including this one. You've got to hand it to tyrannosaurs - they know how to strike a pose. This one's somehow toppling backwards, presumably while emitting an operatic cry of intense emotional trauma and aiming an eye at the critics in the crowd as the curtain falls. A suitably dramatic finish!

7 comments:

  1. Perhaps surprisingly given certain other restorations (see below), this Scelidosaurus is a very active-looking creature, a world away from earlier restorations that gave it sprawling limbs and a dragged tail. Its alertness is particularly emphasised by the upright position of its head and neck. It's a lovely illustration, and it seems odd that this is one of the less reproduced/copied out of those in this book.

    A couple of things: (1) This picture was obviously the inspiration for a small plastic figure of _Scelidosaurus_ that I have but of which I cannot find a picture anywhere on-line... (2) It's probably not reproduced much these days because it's now known to be incorrect--new specimens show that the animal was really much spikier and more heavily armored than this picture shows.

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  2. Well, sure, not these days, but didn't even appear much in the 1990s whereas others, like the equally out-of-date Polacanthus, were everywhere.

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  3. There's a knockoff of that Scelidosaurus in the Humongous book of Dinosaurs. Like, literally...they didn't even change the pose, it's the exact same thing. You can give them credit for adding a stalking Eustreptospondylus that matches the alert expression of the Scelidosaur, though.

    On the other hand...Am I the only one wondering why there is no Ankylosaurus in the book? its like a making tyrannosaurid section without T. Rex.

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  4. Funny how you consider the tail to be the most lizardly thing about that *Scutellosaurus*. I always thought it was the head.

    I find it striking how the ankylosaurs aren't portrayed as taildraggers (though perhaps *Pinacosaurus* was) while stegosaurs and nodosaurids aren't portrayed that way. Is it the club that makes all the difference? I'm pretty sure that adds to how active they look, though.

    I have to admit something bugs me about that *Hylaeosaurus*. For some reason, I think it looks cartoony, rubbery...just somehow not right.

    As for *Scelidosaurus*, I always thought it was weird how it was placed on its own, small plate somewhere tucked away in a corner of a page (or at least that's how I remember it). Somehow it didn't strike me as being on a plate and as more of an afterthought because of it. Perhaps that's also a reason why it hasn't been copied that often? If you ask me, it should have been on a plate with *Scutellosaurus*. Wasn't *Scutellosaurus* thought to be something of a more primitive, down-sized *Scelidosaurus* anyway?

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  5. I went into the comments to note that I have a die-cast metal Scelidosaurus in the exact same pose as the illustration. I note that other posters have seen this pose as well, so it may be more oft-copied than you realized!

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  6. "You've got to hand it to tyrannosaurs - they know how to strike a pose. This one's somehow toppling backwards, presumably while emitting an operatic cry of intense emotional trauma and aiming an eye at the critics in the crowd as the curtain falls. A suitably dramatic finish!"

    ...and then the ankylosaur yelled "Sic Semper Tyrannosaurus!"

    ...I had to...

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